Recently I was at a competition, and a new parent approached me. She has a young fencer new to the sport and they were both new to the experience of competitions. She asked me, “Why do the other girls yell so much?” She thought it was inappropriate to behave in that way and that the other girl should be penalized or punished for her outbursts.
If you’re new to the sport of competitive fencing it’s easy to mistake the outbursts to be some kind of temper tantrum or even bad sportsmanship. But the truth is it’s completely appropriate behavior, and in fact, it is encouraged and even sometimes cheered!
Who Yells in Fencing
Before modern technology during non-electric fencing competitions, fencers would often yell as a way to attract the attention of the referee. This was a way to persuade the judge to give the point to the yelling fencer.
As time went on and technology improved, some of the theatrics continued to remain effective. Well-timed screams can still influence a judge’s perception of the point mostly due to the surprise and shock of it!
Today everyone yells all the way from from Y8 to veteran fencers at the age of 80! All over the world, in any level of competition, someone is yelling about something. And moreover, many coaches require that you use your voice even in practice exercises.
As a spectator, when fencers yell it becomes so much more fun to watch the sport! Particularly during the Olympic Games. It significantly adds to the enjoyment and it also engages the spectators in a way that is similar to watching a football or hockey game. When they score they celebrate, and so do you! It’s possible that you would be bored if they did not scream, right?
Why Fencers Yell
There are as many reasons that fencers yell as there are styles of fencing.
1. To release tension
Some tough bouts can have you building up a lot of stress and tension, and you are super focused when you fence for a point. Then suddenly, you score and as a result, there is a feeling of relief and accomplishment in this touch. So you may scream to release this tension that built up.
2. Gain your confidence back
Sometimes a fencer may feel a bit uncomfortable in a bout or against this specific opponent. They might not score a touch in a long streak, and with each lost touch they loses a little bit more of their confidence. Yelling when they finally score the long awaited touch helps to regain this confidence, and get them back into the game.
A well-timed yell can even help you motivate yourself, like a mini pep talk. You’ll often hear fencers yelling things like “Come on!” “Let’s do this!,” “Here we go!” And so on.
3. Yelling helps to combat nerves
A bit similar to building confidence, yelling can help to squash nerves and help you relax. As we yell we release ephedrine also known as adrenaline which can give us a boost of energy, helping us both to focus and relax.
4. Yelling out of pure celebration
Whether it is a final touch, a touch after a long streak of opponent’s touches, a touch that changes the course of the bout or an epic touch, there are so many reasons that fencers may yell in celebration!
5. Reinstalling your presence of the strip
You also need to show your opponent that you will fight till the end, that you aren’t done yet and even if they have a sizeable lead, you’re not going to let your opponent cruise through this bout.
6. Yelling to play mind games
It’s possible to influence your opponent through your yell. Experienced opponents will shake it off easily, but much less experienced opponents may get annoyed, and lose their focus, which gives you a slight advantage.
7. Yell to influence the referee
Yelling to persuade a right of way touch is especially common in the foil and sabre categories. As much as we think that referees should be totally objective and not be influenced by the yelling, at the end of the day, they are humans, they do make mistakes, and there are different level of referees.
For example, if a fencer is known to scream, and a particular fencing referee is known to respond to yelling by awarding points positively in that fencer’s direction, an opponent fencer may choose to yell as well, to be more evenly matched in the eyes of the referee! As much as we would like this not be a case, such situations do happen.
This video has some great examples of fencing yells and interviews with some major fencers talking about why and when they yell.
For some, it’s simply a release of pressure built up from the mental and physical tension of a bout, particularly if the score is very close or if the two fencers are very evenly matched. Just like you may yell from pain when you stub your toe, or as a way to help relieve the pressure and relax, shouting in a high-pressure bout can create a quick bit of release to help you focus and get back into the game.
When Yelling In Fencing Isn’t Appropriate
Generally speaking, it’s not appropriate to yell directly into your opponent’s face. Typically fencers will turn away and shout, making sure to be further out of direct earshot.
Most fencers also don’t yell in practice and save all that release of emotion for competition. Training is more reserved for socialization and betterment of your skills as a fencer.
What you can yell is a bit up for debate as well, although yelling things directed at your opponent, including name-calling or bullying is strongly discouraged. Once I was at an SYC Y14 competition and I witnessed a fencer yelling “Yay, Loser!” (Or something to this affect) to his opponent. He was immediately yellow carded by the referee and I couldn’t agree more with that call.
Typically what fencers yell is just a scream without any meaning, but sometimes it is “Yay!”, “Yes”, “Let’s go!” or something similar to express emotion.
It’s also generally understood that if you have secured a significant lead, continuing to yell becomes unsportsmanlike. It’s almost like you’re rubbing it into your opponent’s face how much better you are. In that case, yelling is best reserved for the final winning touch or more competitive bouts.
Many older and experienced fencers choose not to yell at their younger opponents, purely out of respect for their age and their newness to the sport.
While there’s no hard and fast rule as to how long a yell can be or what is an acceptable length, as with everything less tangible, you should apply a rule of a good taste. Is this something that you find offensive? If so, don’t do it! Are you going to yell in a way that wouldn’t make you proud when you watch a video reply of it? If not, don’t do it!
Yelling is an important part of fencing. Many coaches incorporate yelling in their drills and routine exercises. To teach young fencers to do it right, and to learn how to release the tension and regain their focus and confidence. I’ve seen many fencers start their competitive season quiet as a mouse, to end it yelling primal screams that intimidate their opponent and pump themselves up!
It’s worth experimenting with as you’re learning and growing as a fencer. And if your child is fencing and starts yelling, do not discourage this! It can be an excellent way for some fencers to improve their focus and concentration and get back to the game
Photo credit: Leo Mason-USA TODAY Sports